Life Lessons From SNL and College Admissions

There are pros and cons to your kids getting older.  

Pro- No changing diapers or using a snot sucker during the winter (the diaper part was year-round, fyi. Don’t think I was just a seasonal diaper changer). 

Con- No more kids rates/deals on food, flights, or theme parks. 

Pro- Travel is much easier. No stroller or car seats to tote around. And they can carry their own stuff (even if a blanket or stuffed animal may be dragged idly across airport terminals). 

Con- Fewer hugs (So while I usually reserve this line for the end of blogs, if you are student reading this, hug your mama!) 

But perhaps the biggest pro is less animated cartoons and more opportunity to re-watch classic TV shows and movies. Over the Thanksgiving Break we went deep into the SNL Treasure Trove for gems from Eddie Murphy, Chris Farley, Chris Rock, Will Ferrell, and many more.

At some point in our turkey-induced stupor, we ran across Hans and Franz clips. I could not recall many lines verbatim, but one I distinctly remembered was, “Listen to me now and hear me later.” When those skits originally aired, I did not grasp the deep truth of that statement, but as a parent it’s becoming my biggest hope for my kids, so I’ve begun using my best faux Austrian accent when I’m doling out life lessons, “Listen to me now and hear me later.”  

Listen to me now

I’m actually hoping you will take that phrase literally- listen to me now (on the blog) and hear me later (on the podcast), because we have covered some great content recently on The College Admission Brief.

Not aware we had a podcast? Yep. Check it out on Apple, Spotify, or Google. With 82 Episodes ranging from admission tips and insight to guests discussing their own college admission journey, we are confident you will find the content timely, relevant, and shareable. AND perhaps best of all, no episode is longer than 20 minutes. Thank you- and you’re welcome! 

Hear me later 

We have had some great conversations recently, so we hope you’ll take some time in the weeks ahead to catch up and share with friends, family, or your school community.

  1. Admission Insights from a Different Perspective, November 22 

Briefly- Tara Miller, Assistant Director of Admissions at St. Mary’s University discusses her pathway from community college to the University of Texas at Austin; lessons learned from working with public high school students for 16 years; and how to uniquely approach and own your college admission experience.  

Key Quote- “Go where you feel supported and appreciated.” As you are weighing your college options in the months ahead, my sincere hope is that sentiment will be a much bigger driver for you than rankings or outside  influences/ expectations.    

Listen For- Tara’s empowering reminder to high school students that they are in charge of their college admission experience- and, of course, “the all you can eat buffet.”  

2. Navigating Admission and Finding Community as a First-Generation College Student, November 8 

Briefly– Dr. Charmaine Troy, First-Generation and Limited Income Program and Operations Manager at Georgia Tech talks about her journey from rural North Carolina to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; how to advocate for yourself and conquer imposter syndrome;  and a message we all need to hear and tell ourselves regularly about so many things in life,  “Don’t let fear stop you!”  

Key Quote- “Don’t let that pride get in your way.” Great advice for all of us, and particularly relevant in the admission experience. Don’t let pride drive where you apply (or don’t apply), where you choose to attend, or your willingness to reach out for help once you arrive on campus.  

Listen For- The importance of being organized, knowing financial aid and scholarship deadlines, and proactively reaching out to members of the university communities you are considering, in order to learn about support programs. 

3. Basics of College Admission 2.0, various dates in August through October 

Briefly- Members of the Tech team tackle popular application topics to provide tips and insight from inside the admission office: Financial Aid; Campus and Virtual Visits; Community Involvement; Essays; and Community Disruption.  

4. Honorable Mention- Is That a Good School? October 29 

Listen For– Approach college admission like a college student: Research (read student newspapers, check out online alumni magazines- plus a great TikTok hack); don’t accept information at face value;  seek multiple perspectives and opinions about the schools you are considering; and change the question to “Is that a good school…for me?” 

5. Best Title of the Year Award- What the Funnel? October 5 

Briefly- A deep dive into the numbers- all the numbers: Admit rates, yield rates, melt rates, BS rates, and many more. Admittedly, a little wonky but if you are looking for a thorough understanding of the machinations colleges go through to enroll a class, this one’s for you. Otherwise, you can wait for this blog/podcast’s distant cousin (WTH), arriving sometime in 2022.  

And in case you listened to me earlier but are just hearing me now—HUG YOUR MAMA!  

How Does the Admission Review Timeline Work?

This week we welcome Assistant Director of Digital Media, Samantha Rose-Sinclair to the blog. Welcome back, Sammy!

Listen to the podcast! Apple | Spotify | Spreaker | Google

Have you ever wondered how the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade works? Or how sneezing works? What about the Manhattan Grid? One of my favorite podcasts (besides ours, cough cough) has got you covered. Stuff You Should Know indulges your curiosities about the stuff you didn’t know that you didn’t know. But, in over 1600 episodes, it seems there’s one question they still haven’t answered:

How does the college admission review timeline really work?

To be fair, that’s probably far too specific of a question for Josh and Chuck to answer. Luckily, I know a guy who knows a guy who met someone once that can answer it instead. (It’s me. I’m that someone.)

You may be curious “what’s actually going to happen with my application?” and then later wonder “what’s taking so dang long?!” Sure, submitting a college application can feel like shouting into a void, or putting something into a black box and waiting to see what comes out the other side. The truth is that “black box” of admission review is a highly coordinated and active effort among admission reviewers. So, while I can throw some advice at you to “keep perspective and live in the now!” or “control what you can control!” or any other number of bumper sticker slogans, I also get that some may find comfort peeking into that black box.

Disclaimer: While there is a fair amount of similarity in holistic admission practices between schools, there are also many logistical differences. Different schedules, admission team sizes, application pools, and different priorities… you get the idea. For that reason, we’ll primarily speak for ourselves here and use Georgia Tech as an example.

Initial Review

After your application and required documents have been received and matched in admission databases, your file is complete and ready to review. You’ll see plenty of variability here. Most colleges group their application reviews either by geographic area or by academic colleges, some have team based initial reviews, while others have individual counselors perform a full initial review. Regardless, this all takes time.

In our office, the majority of time (roughly two-thirds) between an application deadline and decision notification is spent on this initial, in-depth reviews of files. However, there’s not an absolute goal for files per day, or minutes per file. Last year, our team fluctuated anywhere between 500-1,300 combined files reviewed in a day. (The varying schedules of our part-time readers also contribute to that fluctuation.)

Our admission office utilizes the team-based approach mentioned above. Prior to Covid we used something called Committee Based Evaluation, but given our readers’ variations in schedules due to the pandemic, we moved to a Linear Application Review Process.

Yes, we call it LARP. No, not that kind of LARP.

This is the same collaborative approach, shifted to a sequential instead of synchronous process. Some of the team members are reviewers who are familiar with the applicant’s geographic region and can contribute knowledge of the territory and the school to the review. (This is where it becomes especially helpful to review all complete applicants from the same school at once!) In addition, the applicant will receive a review from another reader who specializes in reviewing the content of the application: honors, activities, essays, and so on. The combination of those reviews will give a sense of the student, their environment, and their fit to the Institution.

Committee

In some admission review processes, it’s clear within first review whether applicants are a fit or not, and applicants will come out of those first reviews with a preliminary admission decision. For other offices, they’ll review some students again, or all students again, in committee once they’ve completed a critical mass of first reviews and have a better understanding of the pool.

My understanding of admission committee growing up was based entirely on a scene out of Legally Blonde: a dozen men in blazers in a dark room with furrowed brows and rejection stamps in their hands. Rest assured this is not reality, especially in virtual environments last year where committee review took place at home on a video call and with a blanket, my cat, and (ideally) Cheez-its.

In committee, admission counselors have conversations about the initial reviews on the files, discussions around shaping the class, and exchanges on how applicants may fit with the institution and its priorities. Admission counselors may also receive feedback from their school’s administration, deans, and stakeholders about priorities and enrollment targets/goals for that year.

In our case, the territory manager will remain in these conversations, along with other staff members who can provide new and additional perspectives to the review of the application. Last year we spent about two weeks in committee per application round, give or take a few days depending on the volume of applicants. Our team utilizes a lot of smaller committees, while you’ll find that other schools may use one or two larger committees. For our process, this means that every member of our small committees (2-3 people each) has a voice and a role in the conversation. It also means that while we’ll come pretty close to our final decisions, there are a lot of decisions happening in several committees at once, and we won’t hit the exact number of students we intend to give admission offers. Therefore, the last week or two prior to decisions being released is spent making final adjustments.

So now you know!

That’s the black box. Why does it take so long?

  • It takes several months to have thorough, purposeful conversations thousands of times over. There’s no Excel formula, magic eight ball, roll of the dice, or throwing darts at applications to see who we land on, which is for the best. My dart throwing skills are abysmal.
  • We’re shaping a class: At selective institutions using holistic review, we can’t make one student’s decision and then immediately spit it back out. It takes months of adjustments while reviewing the whole pool to come to our collective final decisions. That means that no single applicant’s decision is ready until they’re all ready.

Again, admission review is similar in many aspects from school to school, but it can also vary in many ways. As you read colleges’ websites and attend information sessions or talk to their admission counselors, you can likely get some insight into those differences. And as always, ask questions!

How the Olympics Explain College Admission– Part 2

Listen to “How the Olympics Explain Admission – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

In Part 1, we looked at the two fundamental ways American colleges make admission decisions. Now that you know how colleges review applications, it’s time to look at three important ways you should approach your college admission experience like an Olympian.   

1) Train For Event – Not The Result. 

Don’t get me wrong. I love watching the actual Olympic competitions: games, races, individual feats of strength, speed, and skill. But I am also a sucker for human-interest stories. It is incredible to see the athletes’ families, hometowns, the stringent training regimens, immense sacrifices, and longevity of focus which led to their Olympic moment. 

Whether it be in emails, phone calls, or during information sessions and presentations, students constantly ask “What do I need to do to get in?” Hey, it’s a valid question, and I understand where it comes from. Too often in our culture this is the mentality. What do I need to do to get: the grade? the date? the raise? the car? and so on. As Americans in particular, we are results oriented.  

However, I would assert Olympic athletes do not think this way. Sure. They want to win. They understand scores, times, or skills will come into play, but during the majority of training, their focus is on making the Olympic team and putting forth their best personal effort. In fact, sports psychologists constantly talk about envisioning actions, rather than obsessing about results. In other words, it’s not helpful to say, “picture yourself wearing a gold medal.” Instead, the message is, “Focus on executing. Imagine yourself running your best race or performing your best routine/dive/shot, etc. The results will take care of themselves.”  

And that is my hope for you. Your job is to “train” for being a successful college student. Don’t picture yourself being a student at a certain place, which you absolutely cannot control. Instead, “practice” what will make you great regardless of where you end up. Simply put- BE A GOOD HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT. 

Work hard each day in the classroom.  

Push and challenge yourself academically.  

Learn to create a functional base of knowledge– and be curious about what you don’t know.  

Contribute to your school, family, and community.  

College admission reps will use a lot of words – A LOT – to say all of this, but essentially a good college applicant is a good high school student. Colleges are looking for students who will be desperately missed by the people they leave behind in their school, community, neighborhood.  

Applying an Olympic mentality means worrying less about the medal, the podium, the anthem, and instead committing to your day- to-day training. YOU GOT THIS!  

2) Respect The Competition. TV coverage only brought us a fraction of the action. This year there were 33  sports, 46 disciplines, and 339 total medal events with over 11,500 athletes competing. In the Paralympic Games, which just started this week, another 4,400 athletes will take part. However, unless you had some super- secret Gold Combo #4 cable package you only saw a tiny percentage of those athletes or competitions.  

As a high school student, this is one of the biggest challenges in the college admission experience- understanding the skills, strength, and potential of other applicants you never get to see or know. Colleges do a good job (often in a pretentious and boasting fashion) of describing how many applicants they received in the prior year, or their overall admit rate.  

However, since you are not in the room where files are received and reviewed, it’s impossible to appreciate the talent of this set of students. If you are applying to a college or university with “Olympic” level admit rates, no GPA or test average will adequately convey the depth of their applicant pool. Sure, they will have some percentage of Eddie the Eagle applicants who are not competitive or “in profile,” but those are the outliers.  

Talk to most college admission deans or counselors and they will marvel at the ability of students (hundreds or thousands) who do not end up “on their podium.” If you choose to apply to schools who are denying more students than they admit (sometimes by a wide margin), there is no guarantee. Yes, you have great grades, test scores, letters of rec, essays, and all the things. But so too do the other Olympians showing up at the Games. Again, this is why you need to build a college list with a range of selectivity.  

I expound on the value of seeing or visualizing other applicants in Lessons and Hopes for High School Seniors, but if you are trying to decrease screen time or save your thumbs from scrolling, the take home message is basically covered in the conclusion of our last blog: “Before you ever submit an application to a college using holistic review, take the time to write down or say out loud that you are intentionally competing in gymnastics, rather than the high jump. You are choosing a nuanced, gray, and subjective competition and evaluation, and you are comfortable with the fact that numbers alone will not dictate your results. Promise yourself now that you will not waste time or energy (or precious weeks of your senior year) trying to predict the outcome. And, if you don’t end up on the “podium,” commit to handling your disappointment with class and grace.”     

3) Check Your Ego and Be Patient. Dang. Even writing this sounds like some sick combination of harsh and unrealistic. Welcome to the Olympics! Clearly, you cannot talk about the Tokyo Games without mentioning Simone Biles. The truth is an entire blog would not cover the lessons learned from the GOAT. But I think the 2021 Olympic experience of MyKayla Skinner and Jade Carey are more relevant to you anyway. Jade came to Tokyo as an individual, rather than part of the four-person team. MyKayla was literally about to fly back to the US when she got the text to come back to compete. Both left Tokyo with medals and unpredictable opportunities.  

Olympians are used to the emotional roller coaster. If you listened to many of the interviews from Tokyo, you heard athletes from every sport and nation relay stories of “almost quitting” or “wanting to walk away,” because of the physical or mental toll of competing.  

Good news- your admission experience is not going to be so physically taxing (unless you’re trying to type your essay while on the Peloton). However, you can expect some ups and downs, possible setbacks, and a timeline you will not dictate. You may get deferred, denied, or waitlisted. You may be an alternate for a scholarship or just miss being named valedictorian, NHS, Top 10%, or some other distinction you have been working for and focused on achieving. When this happens (and it will happen), remember Jade and MyKayla- get up, dust yourself off, and keep moving forward. There will always be another opportunity, an open door, or an expected route to your goals.  

Whether you are a senior about to apply to college or an underclassman just starting to explore possible options, I hope you will learn these critical lessons from the Olympics: Train for the event- not the result; respect the competition; and check your ego and be patient.  

How the Olympics Explain College Admission– Part I

Like much of the world, our family was hooked on the Olympics for the last two weeks. So many incredible stories of perseverance and life-long dreams, not to mention many memorable performances. We were distraught by the early losses of US Women’s soccer and Men’s basketball teams, elated by the heart and spirit of Suni Lee and Caleb Dressel, and torn as to which was the more surprising sport included at these Games: walking, trampoline, or sport climbing. 

While Olympic coverage and commercials may fade away in the months ahead, don’t forget the important lesson they’ve taught us—evaluation is made in one of two primary ways: purely quantifiable numbers/times (track, swimming, etc.); or with a certain degree of human judgment and subjectivity (diving, gymnastics, etc.).  

The college admission process is really no different. As we have established in prior blogs, there are nearly 4,000 colleges in America. While they vary as widely as Olympic sports, they essentially make determinations in one of these two ways: formulaic/quantifiable or holistic/ less quantifiable. 

Formulaic Admission Process (aka The High Jump)  

If you apply to a school using this framework for selecting students, you will be asked to sprint down a thin lane carrying a long stick and miraculously catapult yourself above a bar. What?! Nobody told you about that part? I hope you’ve been stretching.  

Formulaic review is typically found at public universities who have determined that academic factors alone (high school GPA and often test scores) are sufficient to evaluate and enroll students who will be successful at their institution. Formulaic admission is based on just that—formulas or regression models derived from evaluating the performance of current students (college GPA, retention rates, graduation rates) and then back mapping that information to establish that college’s admission standards.  

If you watched the high jump in the Olympics, the height of the bar was  immediately evident, and it was obvious who ultimately cleared it and who did not. Colleges with formulaic processes operate the same way. The “bar” is set and simple to understand because it is completely transparent. You’ll find these published on schools’ websites, often with an accompanying calculator for you to plug in your academic credentials.  

A good example of formulaic admission is found in Iowa  where students can plug their GPA and test scores into an online calculator, in order to determine their admissibility to the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and University of Northern Iowa. The admission standards for most of Georgia’s public universities are dictated by the Freshman Index, and the California State System outlines its standards here. In these examples, just as with the Olympic high jump, anyone who clears the bar advances/ is admitted.  

The truth is there are lots of incredible colleges around the country operating this way. As you are making your college list for visits or applications, I  encourage you to check out your options in this space. Ask yourself these questions: 

  • Does my state university system have a publicly available admission formula? If so, does it apply to all universities in my state or only some?  
  • Can I find a college or university in my city/state/region (or one that has mailed me material lately) that uses a formulaic admission review process? 

I’m confident that if you took the time to read and consider your personal rankings after our recent blog (Hint: hyperlinks =  suggested reading), you will be able to find at least one college using formulaic admission that: offers a major that is of interest to you; is located in a town or area you would enjoy going to college; matches with your outside interests; and would offer you admission based on your current grades and scores.   

Holistic Admission Review (aka Gymnastics All-Around) 

In stark contrast to the objective, “clear the bar” process for advancing, you have gymnastics, specifically, the all-around competition. Gymnasts perform vastly different routines with varying levels of rigor and style on multiple elements (just learned that term) — and ultimately receive scores from human judges.  

Through history there have been constant claims of a lack of fairness, evidence of bribing, and consistent complaints from participants, their coaches, and fans about slight differentiations that have made the difference between standing on the podium or not. In the rules book for judges (I skimmed it), you will find references to metrics and guidelines, but also the undeniable presence of nuance and subjectivity. 

I’m guessing this all sounds pretty similar to how you have heard the holistic admission described. The good news, if you apply to colleges using this style of review, is you will not be evaluated solely on your high school grades or test scores. More good news– admission reviewers are trained to use empathy, judgment, trends, and context. Translation: If your vault is not perfect, you can still impress on the beam.  

On the flip side (pun intended), this type of review is gray, and they will be utilizing a variety of qualitative factors that don’t fit neatly into a rubric or published/standardized criteria spreadsheet. Additionally, holistic review signals that in addition to assessing your ability to succeed in the classroom, they also want to enroll students who will enhance their campus community and help fulfill their mission (e.g., institutional priorities). Therefore, it will be difficult, and in some cases impossible, to predict whether you will end up on their particular podium or not.  

If you are like me, you may have felt this way as a spectator of gymnastics this summer. “Oh, WOW!! That was great. Impressive.” Next gymnast performs. “Okay. Also, amazing. Hmmm… I’m not sure. Can we give out more medals?” Answer: NO. Just like the medal podium, holistic review exists because of a supply and demand challenge. In other words, there are more incredible applicants than there are seats/beds/space available. 

Context is everything for colleges using a holistic admission review process. This means when they analyze your transcript, they are not simply going to take the weighted or unweighted GPA at face value. Instead, those humans are going to ask specific, detailed questions to understand your academic and environmental context: What clubs/organizations did you have access to in your high school? What courses did you take and how did you perform in each class, grade, subject area? How did you invest your time outside the classroom? And what impact and influence did you have on your family, community, school, and so on?  What barriers and challenges did you face academically and beyond the classroom? 

Before you ever submit an application to a college using holistic review, take the time to write down or say out loud that you are intentionally competing in gymnastics, rather than the high jump. You are choosing a nuanced, gray, and subjective competition and evaluation, and you are comfortable with the fact that numbers alone will not dictate your results. Promise yourself now that you will not waste time or energy (or precious weeks of your senior year) trying to predict the outcome. And, if you don’t end up on the “podium,” commit to handling your disappointment with class and grace. Is any of that easy? No. But this is Olympic gymnastics! What did you expect?  

Honestly, there are too many parallels…and unevens (Sorry- couldn’t resist) between the Olympics and college admissions to fit into one blog, so look for Part II later this month.

 

The Basics of College Admission 2.0

Listen to “We’re Going Back to Basics! | Basics of College Admission 2.0” on Spreaker.

Is this a blog about a podcast? Yes.  

Do you realize this is not the first time you have done this? Yes. But hold on let’s acknowledge that the first time I did that was on March 5, 2020.  A year plus is always a long time ago in the life of a teenager, but a friggin’ eternity ago for humankind in general given the pandemic blur. 

How do you feel about using the term “friggin’” in writing? I’m more comfortable with that than I am the fact that I’m interviewing myself in writing. Let’s get to it, shall we? 

The brief on The College Admission Brief  

65 produced episodes 

53,600 total listens 

Top Countries outside the US for listeners: India, Taiwan, Japan, United Kingdom.  

No commercials, minimal product placement, and generally PG-13.  

Each month we dive into the analytics on our website, social media channels, blog, podcast, etc. Recently, as we did an annual review of the podcast, it was clear that the topics students most listened to surrounded a series we launched last year entitled: “The Basics of College Admission.” That series provided tips and insight about the college application, including how admission readers consider your GPA, rigor of curriculum, activities & leadership, essays/supplemental questions, as well as test scores (particularly in a test optional environment).  

FYI- another very popular podcast and blog from last year that is particularly timely right now was “Five Practical Tips for Writing for Colleges.” After seeing those analytics, I both re-read and re-listened. Other than giving me a bit of PTSD and reminding me of the “BRU-TAL!” experience, that is one that I’d definitely recommend to seniors getting started with their essays or short-answer responses this fall.  

With all of that said, since we are headed back into application season, our plan is to re-boot the application breakdown series this fall with new episodes and new voices. We thought long and hard about a good title. We brainstormed, white-boarded, design thought, post-it noted, and even brainboarddesignposted. Fueled by Sour Patch Kids, pour over coffee, and Lance crackers (this is the minimal product placement section), we came up with an incredibly fresh title…. “The Basics of College Admission 2.0” Thank you. Thank you very much.  

So, in the upcoming weeks/months, you can expect us to both write and talk about all of the key elements of the application, including tips, pitfalls, and inside the admission office perspective on the how/if to write about “community disruption” on the Common Application, why the “Additional Information” section is there and how to differentiate that from the “Covid-19” prompt, and much more.  

Additionally, over the last year we have been on numerous virtual sessions with students and are beginning to see more visitors back on campus. Our goal is to help you ask more clear, helpful questions in your college admission experience. So in each episode we’ll ask our guests a bit about how you should be framing your questions to get usable and important information. My last blog was about helping you ask and answer “Do I Care?” These podcasts will help you reverse that so you can hone in on the things you do care about and learn more.  

We genuinely appreciate you both reading and listening. As the new year begins, we are excited to continue bringing you helpful, timely, and hopefully succinct and uplifting content. Speaking of- our staff has been using resources from Action for Happiness. Consider downloading August’s calendar and putting this into practice this month. 

Our goal is always to be a resource to you. If you have questions, suggestions, or topics you would like to see covered, please reach out on social media @gtadmission.